Thursday, May 5, 2011

Leader’s Death 'Is Not The End Of Al Qaeda'

By Michael Jansen 
This commentary was published in The Jordan Times on 05/05/2011 

The death of Osama Ben Laden is not the end of Al Qaeda, the far-flung Jihadi enterprise he founded in 1988. Indeed, angry followers can be expected to try to exact terrible retribution on the US, its Western allies and governments believed to be in league with them. Many more innocent people could die or be maimed in the name of vengeance.

The fact that an unarmed Ben Laden was shot dead by US commandos is certain to rile not only his followers but also many Arabs, Muslims and others who are disgusted with the US propensity for shooting first and asking questions later.

The command issued to US forces, “kill or capture”, seems to have been adapted from Wild West posters of criminals wanted “dead or alive”. But the world has moved beyond the anarchic days of 19th century cowboy justice.

The media hype over the US operation to kill or capture Ben Laden has given the man far more importance than he deserves. He became a modest symbol for Arabs and Muslims struggling for independence from “Godless” foreign rule and influence when, in 1979, he and his Arab followers took up arms in the Afghan war against the Soviet Union. He grew into an icon of revolt and retribution in 1998 when he translated this struggle onto the global plane by attacking the US embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es-Salam, Tanzania.However, he did not become the world’s most wanted man until an Al Qaeda cell mounted a devastating operation that brought down the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York and struck one wing of the Pentagon, headquarters of the US defence department, in Washington. These two carefully chosen targets were potent manifestations of the military-industrial complex that rules the US.

Ben Laden did not follow this spectacular operation with another, although some of his disciples staged fatal attacks on a Madrid commuter train and on London underground trains and buses.

The US responded to the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington by smothering airports and public buildings in security and invading and occupying Afghanistan - allegedly with the object of getting Ben Laden - and Iraq, which had refused to house Ben Laden.

When he and his followers were compelled to take refuge in inaccessible mountain caves in Afghanistan, his command and control networks connecting Al Qaeda central to franchises were disrupted, and many cells wrapped up or destroyed. The success of the September 11 operation brought the step-by-step downfall of Al Qaeda central operating directly under Ben Laden.But Al Qaeda founded franchises - Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia (which drew recruits from many Arab and Muslim countries), Al Qaeda in the Maghreb, and Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula - which seems to have maintained tenuous contact with Ben Laden and his deputy Ayman Al Zawahiri.

Al Qaeda also morphed into independent groups that followed Ben Laden’s ideology and operational methods. Al Qaeda imitators attracted angry, frustrated individuals who wanted to lash out at the US, the West in general, Israel and others considered enemies of Arabs and Muslims.

While Al Qaeda central could disappear completely along with Ben Laden, its franchises, imitative independents and individual followers can be expected to live on and strike the US and its allies for some time. In the short term, there could be revenge attacks but in the long-to-medium term, they could, like Ben Laden fade from the scene because they could become irrelevant.

The Arab world, the heartland of the Muslim world, is fully occupied with reform and even revolutionary transformation.The prime movers of change are secular democrats, nationalists and moderate Muslim fundamentalists and radicals (Salafists) who have renounced violence, including Egypt’s Islamic Jihad and Gamaa Al Islamiya. The regional game plan has been altered by the Arab spring.

This is not the only reason for Ben Laden and Al Qaeda’s current irrelevance. He and Al Qaeda were always marginal. His Arab recruits, who numbered several thousand, did not play a major role in the defeat of the Soviet Union’s forces in Afghanistan.

Some became relevant when they went home and began to cause trouble for their governments or when they joined the Mujahedeen’s international brigades and took part in Bosnian or Caucasian wars. Later, veterans of the first Afghan war against the Russians returned to Afghanistan to fight US-led NATO troops, while some joined the resistance against the US occupation of Iraq.

While Ben Laden longed to oust secular Arab and Muslim regimes and replace them with an Islamic caliphate, the only government Ben Laden toppled was the fundamentalist Afghan Taliban, which hosted and shielded Al Qaeda. And this happened only because he was based there and not because of his efforts to overthrow this Al Qaeda-friendly regime.

Two of his stated objectives were the liberation of Palestine from Israeli occupation and the eradication of the US presence in the Arabian Peninsula. Al Qaeda never carried out operations against Israel in the Palestinian territories, and while there have been Al Qaeda attacks in the Arabian Peninsula, the US remains a key ally of governments there.

Al Qaeda affiliates have been active in many countries in this region, the Indian Subcontinent, Southeast Asia, Africa, Europe and the US, but have effected no major political changes in these countries. Al Qaeda militants have not altered US and Western policies towards Israel and the Palestinians, nor have they persuaded India to formulate a new approach to Kashmir in spite of all the blood and tears shed over these conflicts.

Nevertheless, the threats which Al Qaeda central, its affiliates and allied groups and individuals inspired by Ben Laden still pose could have a positive impact if they force change on the US and Western governments which have victimised Arabs and Muslims. Indeed, unless the Western powers genuinely tackle Muslim resentments and grievances, the dying phenomenon of “Ben Ladenism” could reassert itself and mount deadly operations against Arab and Muslim antagonists.

No comments:

Post a Comment